Last Thursday night, as around 70 people gathered at The Temporary for the first of three public open houses about Basalt’s master-plan update, there was no shortage of opinions on the six highlighted topics: demographics (where do people live), storytelling (what makes Basalt special), flourish (what makes for vitality), move (transportation), work (how is the job situation) and, lastly, build and grow (how much and where should Basalt expand).
Most everyone, it seemed, already had their two cents to share at each of the six stations, but perhaps the most important people there were the ones who came in with no opinions at all.
The roughly $200,000 contract for the master-plan update was awarded to the team from CTA Architects Engineers in part because they aren’t local and don’t know how contentious some of the land-use debates in town have become. CTA, which has offices in Denver and elsewhere, partnered with Basalt-based Connect One Design when the town of Basalt put out a request for proposals last December. The combination of local insight and a fresh, impartial set of eyes – with no preconceived notions about things like the Pan & Fork parcel and the Tree Farm proposal – proved appealing enough to earn a unanimous vote of the town council in March.
Now, CTA, Connect One and the Basalt planning department are tasked with overhauling a master plan that was last fully updated in 2007. That means getting a sense of what the community as a whole wants to see for Basalt’s future. It’s no easy task, given the geographical and philosophical differences that often split the town’s citizenry in two. Last week’s meeting was the first step toward figuring out where there’s some common ground.
“We heard from a lot of people wanting a gathering place,” said Dave Dixon, a planner with CTA’s Denver office who is one of the project leads. “Folks want to get together and be able to just kind of run into each other, like something that would happen maybe at a park or a street festival.”
Another commonly mentioned issue was housing affordability, but Dixon cautioned that it’s still too early in the process to speculate on other topics. The CTA-Connect One team is still synthesizing the “mountain of feedback,” as he called it, and they’re months away from coming to any conclusions.
But last week’s event wasn’t just about hearing people’s opinions. Much of the team’s goal was to lay the groundwork for what’s to come.
“We wanted to convey that this is a broader visionary plan for the whole community,” said Dixon. “This is a comprehensive look at the things that affect day-to-day life in Basalt, so in that case, that live-work-grow-move-flourish framework was really appropriate for starting out that discussion. People came with their issues in hand, but it kind of guided that to a little bit more robust conversation.”
The effect was almost palpable. Many of the people in the crowd were the same ones who have been the most engaged in debates over Basalt’s future the last few years. Though they are often at odds with one another over many things, once they’d shared their views on their pet concerns and taken some time to ponder issues that maybe they hadn’t thought about as much, the discussions become more than civil, and a shared optimism – by Basalt’s recent standards, anyway – pervaded the room. In some ways, it was spurred by the storytelling station, another place where locals seemed to share common ground and a sense of civic pride united them.
“One of the most interesting parts for our team was asking folks why they live here. What makes Basalt so great?” said Dixon. “People were open to talking about the town’s proximity to these great things and the outdoors, and the rivers – the rivers came up quite a bit. So how can Basalt embrace the rivers as a new identity or a new emphasis for the town?”
With that as part of its early general direction, CTA and Connect One will now figure out just what they learned last week and build on that knowledge at the next two open houses – May 9 at Basalt High School and May 30 at the Rocky Mountain Institute. They’ll also do their best to get those residents who haven’t been engaged in the past to share their thoughts, too.
“One of the things the team spent a lot of time on after Thursday night was to strategize even more about how we can reach out to the groups that couldn’t attend the open house or our neighborhood meetings,” said Dixon. “Certainly, people can engage through letstalk.basalt.net, but it is important to our team to seek out these groups and get their ideas in person.”
They’re hoping to get as broad a range of ideas as possible, and they may host some additional events aimed at the groups Dixon mentioned, but that’s all yet to come. For now the CTA-Connect One team has data to sift through and next week’s open house to prepare for, and then, finally, one day a few months from now, after they’ve impartially listened to as many people’s ideas as they can, they’ll have opinions of their own to render.